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Monday, 13 February 2012

The way we were, the way we are: Agioi Apostoloi - Ayious Apostolous (Άγιοι Αποστόλοι - Άγιους Αποστολους)

Today, the State Council will be discussing the return of 48 stremmata to private citizens posing as owners of some of the public land on Ayious Apostolous in Hania. Spare a thought for the Athenians who are living through hell by no fault of their own: the reason why their city is burning down right now has absolutely nothing to do with the reasons for the demonstrations taking place against Greece's bailout.

The photos below have been taken at Agioi Apostoloi beach (also known as Ayious Apostolous), an area which consists of three small penisulas jutting out into the sea. Ayioi Apostoloi are within easy reach for me: I live close by, I shop at the supermarkets located near there, and it is my choice for a family outing in the summer. Last weekend, I found myself there again, at an event being held against the commercialisation of the area.

A friend of mine who visited Ayious Apostolous during the summer thought it looked rather old-fashioned, like watching a film scene from the 1970s. It did not seem to live up to its high recreational and aesthetic value. Obviously, I'm kind of used to it looking like this, and in present-day Greece, constantly being accused of obliterating its past, I am wondering if I really want to see it looking too different to what it is now. My biggest fear stemming from the over-exploitation of the area is not the constrcution of commercial premises (eg hotels), but ACCESS - to the beach, the landscape, and the views. Would I still be able to come here for a stroll, a swim or just because I feel like it, if private busiensses establish themselves here?

Even if more public spending were to be poured into places like this, I'm sure that it would also require greater manitenance, something that Greece has never shown to take interest in (think: 2004 Olympic Games installations). Most development projects are left to their own fate. In this light, I can safely say that the way we once were is the way we are now, and it seems unlikely to change if everything is left to the locals.


On the western peninsula, there is a church dedicated to the Holy Apostles where the area gets its name from: Ayioi Apostoloi. 

Agious Apostolous is a busy place all year round. The area is located less than two kilometres from my home - not far from the home my mother left when she emigrated. Throughout the year, and especially so in winter, when it's quieter and there are fewer cars on the roads that criss-cross the beach areas, Agious Apostolous is a popular place for cycling, horse-riding and jogging. There is a well-used football pitch and a children's park located across from the sea. On any fine day, there are people making good use of the whole area, which is forested, with more trees being planted over the years. In summer, it is one of the most popular beaches in the town, due to its proximity (the closest town beach is Nea Hora - Agious Apostolous lies on the same stretch westwards) and the choices it offers - two sheltered bays flanked by Kalamaki beach on the west and Hrisi Akti (Golden Beach) on the east), all with shallow waters that allow parents to feel safe. Agious Apostolous beach is also where nearly all children in Hania first start learning how to swim (mine included), as open-air lessons are held here every summer.

 
The beach cafes were working last Sunday (5/1/2012) because of the event taking place in the area, a campaign aiming to raise awareness against the commercialisation of Agious Apostolous. Thankfully, the weather didn't let us down - it had been raining for the past three weekends.

In the summer, certain sections of the beach have umbrellas and deck chairs for hire, but this should not be seen as an over-commercialised activity: most of the area is, in fact, not covered by beach umbrellas, and most people lay their beach towels straight on the sand, in the same area as the umbrellas. In essence, Agious Apostolous beach offers everyone democratic choices depending on their wallet and lifestyle. There are also, naturally, lots of places to buy food and drink, and why not? It's a summer resort, surrounded by many hotels where both Greek and European holidaymakers stay during the summer. Such infrastructure is needed but it doesn't encroach on the whole area, making it suitable for all pockets. This summer, most people enjoying the Blue Flag beach zone were bringing picnic hampers. Again, it all depends on your lifestyle choices. The area could possibly do with a makeover. But if this means that I can't enjoy a cheap coffee or snack, and I won't be able to lay my own towel on the sand, I'm not sure if I would find that easy to accept.

agioi apostoloi 1974Above: Me (right) and a village friend I'd made in Crete on my first visit to Hania - 30/6/1974.
Below:  My children, taken from roughly the same spot - 5/2/2012. More housing has been built, but more trees have also been planted.
 

 
One of the most poignant reminders of the area's past is the children's camping installations, built in the 1930s from an idea by an enlightened teacher of the time, for the poorer children of the town to enjoy a holiday in the fresh air. These derelict buildings are one of the most visible parts of the area. Eventually, the buildings went into decline, the last use of them being made by the army up until the 1970s. Today they stand as a testament of Greek state mismanagement.

 
The former camping installations are located on the middle peninsula. The church of the Holy Apostles can be seen from here on the western peninsula. 
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The whole area is best enjoyed in late winter-early spring, when it is covered in the most beauiful flora: large patches of land were covered in anemones and mandrakes, all in bloom.
Above: My mother (left) with a friend, at the beach directly below the Holy Apostles church, taken some time between 1960-1962. Below: the same spot - 5/2/2012

The biodiversity of the area is immense, especially given that this small sapce of land lies in the heart of an ovedelveloped tourist area, with haphazard planning. Although it is situated close to many other green areas, the latter are mainly olive groves and land that is under cultivation. This means that the biodiversity found there in much more limited due ot constant exploitation by earth shifting by farmers. Ayioi Apostoloi are a reminder to the locals of what the area was like in the past.

The photos speak for themselves. The colour ones were all taken on 5/2/2012. It's undeniable that I live in a beautiful place - I hope it can stay like this.You can find more photos here.

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